Roles and Responsibilities: Industrial Tribunals (Northern Ireland)
In Northern Ireland, Industrial Tribunals were introduced in 1964 and have powers to hear complaints under employment protection legislation, including complaints against unfair dismissal, discrimination and underpayments of national minimum wage. The management of the tribunals is a matter for the President of the Tribunals. Administrative support is provided by the Secretary of the Tribunals and the Office of the Tribunals, whose staff are drawn from the Department for Employment and Learning. Most cases are heard at the Office of the Tribunals in Belfast, although additional centres elsewhere are also used.
Industrial Tribunals are independent judicial bodies. Almost all hearings are open to the public and evidence is heard under oath. The tribunal usually has three members, a legally qualified chairman and two lay members (one nominated by an employer association and one by the Trades Union Congress or and affiliated union) who are appointed by the Department for Employment and Learning.
There are time limits to take a claim to an industrial tribunal. The Labour Relations Agency (NMWM02090) may be involved in trying to resolve the dispute before the case is heard by an industrial tribunal.
The person making the claim is called the claimant. Claims are made by completing a form which can be obtained at a Jobcentre or from the Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (Northern Ireland) website. A copy of the claim is sent to the respondent (the person against whom the complaint is made) who has 28 days to respond.
The claimant and the respondent can nominate a representative to act on their behalf. If they do, the tribunal will only deal directly with their representative.
Some issues may need to be dealt with prior to the hearing. For example, either party can ask the other to supply information about the case or produce documents for inspection. The tribunal may need to give orders about the production of documents or other matters related to the case.
If either party wishes someone to give evidence on their behalf, they should arrange for them to attend the tribunal. If necessary, the tribunal can make an order requiring them to attend. However, the tribunal cannot grant an order in respect of a person who is residing outside Northern Ireland.
Similarly, if you wish the other party to bring certain documents to the hearing, you may ask them to do so. If they refuse, you can apply to the tribunal for an order requiring them to produce the documents. You may also ask the other party to supply additional information about the case or produce documents for your inspection. If they refuse you can apply to the tribunal for an Order requiring them to produce the documents and provide the additional information.
You may also apply to the tribunal for an order imposing a requirement on a party to furnish to the tribunal a written answer to questions.
Requests for Orders from a tribunal for documents, additional information or written answers to questions, must specify the documents, additional information and questions sought.
There are four types of hearing:
- Direction hearings
- Pre-hearing reviews
- Preliminary hearings
- Main or full merits hearings.
The tribunal will always send a written decision and its reasons for making that decision to the parties or to their representative. Appeals can only be made on a point of law to the Court of Appeal, Northern Ireland (NMWM02140). Appeals against the tribunal’s decision must be made in writing to the Secretary of the Tribunals within six weeks of the date the decision was issued.
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For information about the position in England, Wales and Scotland see NMWM02100.